London during the holiday season is something I wish everyone could experience at least once in their lifetime. I mean, you think you’ve seen Christmas spirit, until you go to London in the month of December. The entire city is essentially wrapped as one giant twinkling gift.

I went to London in search of cozy Christmassy vibes (that may or may not have been inspired by the film Love Actually), to visit friends who I had met around the world, as well as to experience something different from my typical travel endeavours since as a digital nomad I usually chase summers. I’d only previously visited London in the warmer months, and thought it was nice, but visiting in December brought a whole new experience and after spending a few weeks there, I can officially say…

London wins at Christmas.

The city truly goes all out. There are beautiful lights strung all around, forming twinkling works of art on streets from Regent to Carnaby and beyond. London’s signature trademarks such as double-decker busses and phone booths beam in vibrant red, adding to the Christmassy scene. Iconic attractions such as Trafalgar Square and Big Ben are decorated with giant illuminated Christmas trees. And during the winter months, the sun sets around 4 pm, so the lights start twinkling early and set a festive scene for the evening.

There are beautiful markets all over the city, which have either popped up specifically for the holidays, like those at Leicester Square or Trafalgar Square, or have just been adorned with garlands, trees, and lights to create a festive atmosphere over permanent markets like Borough Market or New Covent Garden Market. Milling about the markets is a lovely way to spend the day, enjoying delicious food or sipping on mulled wine, socializing with friends or browsing the artisanal crafts for sale.

London’s pub scene also adds to the coziness of the season. Pubbing in London is a way of life. All over the city, you’ll find crowds of jolly pubgoers spilling out onto the sidewalks or streets, or bundled up inside, enjoying a pint or four. The pubs beckon you in with endearing English names like Duke of Wellington, The Three Greyhounds, King’s Head, or The Porcupine, and their cozy vibes and social atmosphere can make it easy to pass the night away. Enjoying classic English dishes like a Scotch Egg, steak and ale pie, or Sunday roast is a must. 

Of course, if you’re looking to do some Christmas shopping, London has got you covered. Department stores like Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, and Harrods go all out with their Christmas decor and have something to offer everyone on your list. High-end designer brands like Cartier and Chanel appear to be competing to outdo their neighbours on New Bond Street, a prime area for people-watching and window shopping. Hubs like Regent Street, Oxford Street, or King’s Road also have known and loved brand offerings up for sale. It’s not the most wallet-friendly activity, but it can be fun and special to find gifts for loved ones. 

 Christmas Shopping . Photo: Kellie Paxian
Photo: Kellie Paxian

London is also teeming with Christmas activities — you will truly never get bored in this city, but especially over the holidays. Go ice skating with stunning backdrops like the Natural History Museum or Somerset House. Visit the fair and market at Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland. Go catch a show at the West End, with Christmassy options like A Christmas Carol or The Snowman. I went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and it was absolutely incredible.

The city is massive, but one of my favourite activities to do in London is to just walk. Stroll around the different neighbourhoods, discover what breeds their character, see the ways the locals express themselves through the holiday season. The coloured homes and mews in Notting Hill will transport you straight to your favourite scene of Love Actually or – you guessed it – Notting Hill. The creative street art in Shoreditch will keep you captivated all day. I loved strolling around the streets of Chelsea, where I was staying at the flat of my very kind and generous friend. The homes are so beautiful, they feel like quintessential London you see in the movies, and many have been decorated with Christmas arrangements from wreaths and garland to giant bows. It’s lovely to see how the locals live and celebrate the holidays.

Walking streets at Christmas. PHoto: Kellie Paxian
Photo: Kellie Paxian

For me, the main purpose of this trip was visiting friends, and this type of quality time with loved ones is what truly makes the Christmas season special. I have friends who live in London that I’ve met all over the world, from Guatemala to Colombia to South Africa. It was so incredible to reunite with them for different activities around the city and see London through their eyes. I think that is one of the most beautiful parts of travelling in general, but especially solo travelling — I have amazing friends all over the world, and in London, they welcomed me with open arms this holiday season.

London lights at Christmas. Photo: Kellie Paxian
Photo: Kellie Paxian

Cover photo by Kellie Paxian